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Climate activist demonstrate outside of the White House calling on President Joe Biden to quickly pass a climate-friendly infrastructure plan on June 4, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Facing Corporate Blitz, Progressives Urge Unity to Defend $3.5 Trillion Package

"This is a winnable fight, but it will take strong alignment, sharp interventions, and bold negotiations to get our progressive priorities across the finish line."

Jessica Corbett

Faced with the deadly impacts of the climate emergency and a "massive" corporate lobbying blitz, 11 progressive groups on Friday called for Democratic Party unity in Congress to pass an ambitious and sweeping $3.5 trillion Build Back Better reconciliation bill.

"Now, all eyes are on the reconciliation bill and progressives need to up their game."
—11 groups

"Progressives, both inside and outside of Congress, have done an incredible job so far in the fight for an inclusive recovery," the groups write in a letter (pdf) to allies in elected offices and movements across the country detailing top demands and priorities for the package.

"Now, all eyes are on the reconciliation bill and progressives need to up their game," the organizations argue. "We are in a powerful, but precarious place—we passed the budget resolution with all our progressive priorities still on the table, but still have a race to the finish line as major corporations invest millions in a major lobbying blitz."

"This is a winnable fight," the letter says, "but it will take strong alignment, sharp interventions, and bold negotiations to get our progressive priorities across the finish line."

First reported by Bloomberg, the letter came a day after Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)—a key barrier to the agenda put forth by President Joe Biden—wrote in the Wall Street Journal that lawmakers "should hit a strategic pause" on the budget reconciliation package and he won't support spending $3.5 trillion "without greater clarity about why Congress chooses to ignore the serious effects inflation and debt have on existing government programs."

Progressives in Congress—who are threatening to withhold support for a bipartisan infrastructure bill that Manchin backs if he and other right-wing Democrats block or water down the reconciliation legislation—joined with other critics in blasting his Journal op-ed as a betrayal of the Biden administration, the party's agenda, and most notably, the American people.

"Abolish the Senate," responded Sunrise Movement communications director Ellen Sciales on Thursday after her family home flooded when the remnants of Hurricane Ida hit the Northeast.

"If the Senate can't pass an incredibly popular climate and jobs plan during a summer of unprecedented, fatal climate disasters, and an economy reeling from a global pandemic, we must abolish the Senate," she added Friday. "$3.5 trillion was the compromise. We're tired of the political games. The dual climate and economic crisis can't wait for action and neither can we."

Along with Sciales' youth-led climate group, the progressive letter was signed by Indivisible, Working Families Party, People's Action, Justice Democrats, United We Dream, Center for Popular Democracy, Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, Our Revolution, and Social Security Works.

The organizations celebrate that the recently approved budget blueprint includes popular provisions to provide a pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrants; lower drug prices and expand Medicare; tax rich individuals and corporations; and invest in affordable housing, the care economy, and combating the climate emergency, including with the creation of a Civilian Climate Corps.

The letter praises progressives in Congress for clearly identifying those priorities months ago, then "doggedly negotiating" for them ever since, "while simultaneously building a voting bloc to ensure that the inadequate bipartisan infrastructure package doesn't move until we're able to win a bigger and more inclusive recovery that delivers for all people."

"Progressives on the outside have continued to ramp up urgency, hold out ambition, and build support for the voting bloc strategy," the letter continues. "Perhaps most importantly, progressives on the inside and outside have held impressive cross-issue solidarity in their advocacy, both by supporting each other's priorities, and by avoiding zero-sum tactics that seek to crowd out certain provisions in favor of their own."

Moving forward, the groups urge all progressives to:

  • Resist the urge to cannibalize other priorities;
  • Support progressives to hold their bloc;
  • Keep up the pressure on conservative Democrats;
  • Support progressives in policy negotiations with committees and leadership; and
  • Start preparing for amendments NOW.

"As proven in the days before the budget resolution passed, we can expect conservative Democrats to continue to be a problem," the letter says, noting a recent House battle. "We must continually call their bluff on the specific programs they are unwilling to deliver for the American people, rather than allowing them to get away with vague concerns about spending."

The groups argue that "outside organizations must create an environment where it is worthwhile for progressives to go against leadership to deliver on our priorities" and warn that the time between now and the September 27 deadline the House set for voting on the bipartisan bill "will fly by."

"We know that leadership is largely leaving offices out of negotiations and discouraging amendments to improve the bill in committee," the letter says. "We must find champions to introduce committee and floor amendments that ensure our progressive priorities are included in the final reconciliation bill. Everything we've been fighting for and that progressives have been negotiating over in good faith for months now, will probably not be included in the first draft or manager's amendments."

"Progressives inside and outside of Congress should prepare now so that if the text is insufficient, we have options for how to fight," the letter adds. "In this context, we are looking for progressive members to organize with their colleagues in order to win these votes. In practice, this means a high degree of discipline about a relatively small number of amendments that are popular and winnable. We must execute on sharp strategy to improve the bill before it goes to the Senate."

Though Manchin voted for the budget resolution last month, given his new op-ed, the future of both the reconciliation and bipartisan bills now seems less clear in the evenly divided Senate—where Republicans can't filibuster the $3.5 trillion package, but passing it requires support from all Democrats.

Congressional progressives have publicly reiterated the importance of the reconciliation legislation and called out the West Virginia Democrat since his Journal piece was published.

"Instead of writing op-eds, why don't you look into the faces of my residents who have had their basements flooded with sewage multiple times and their power out for days," Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) tweeted in a message to Manchin. "We deserve better."

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.)—chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which has nearly 100 House members—also responded to the op-ed on Twitter.

"Pause on finally delivering child care, paid leave, education, healthcare, affordable housing, climate action, and dental, vision, and hearing to millions of families across America?" she said. "Absolutely not."


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